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Translation of Markuleshty Colony chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania
Translation of Markuleshty Colony chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 365-368, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
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Translated by Ala Gamulka
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The Jewish Colony
Markuleshty was a Jewish colony and is mentioned in numerous official documents with the word colony added to its name. This distinguished between the village and the colony (both had the same name). The colony was known also under the names Kot or Kot-Markuleshty. Local tradition tells of the day the first settlers arrived on a Tuesday. This is why the colony was called Ki Tov. The local residents mispronounced it as Kot.
Markuleshty Colony was founded in 1837 as one of the Jewish agricultural colonies in Bessarabia. These were established by immigrants from Ukraine following the special edicts of 1835. The land used was leased to the collective for a period of 50 years. When the lease ended the settlers had difficulty in trying to renew it or to buy the land. (Temporary orders of 1882).
After a long court battle and endless negotiations with the authorities a solution was reached with the help of Jewish institutions. The land was purchased by local Jews with money from the Jewish Colonization Association. It was registered in the name of an important local citizen.
According to a census taken by the Jewish Colonization Association in 1898 the colony had an area of 504disiatin (1 Disiatin = 1.09 hectares). It belonged to 123 families which meant an average of 4.10 Disiatins per family.
During that period of time there were 292 families in the colony and they included 1534 people. Of these, 158 families were involved in agriculture (820 people). Of these, 53 families were not on their own land any more.
The rest of the citizens – 134 families comprising 714 people – earned their living by doing other work. These people were considered to be socially lower than the colonists who actually worked the land.
Some of the land was jointly owned and was not to be distributed among the rest. Grazing areas were used by all farmers for their animals. Other common areas were the banks of the Reut and the reeds growing there. Some areas, among them a large vineyard, were worked cooperatively and all farmers enjoyed profits from them. Common need forced the farmers to obtain loans, guidance and machinery from the Jewish Colonization Association. They were thus organized in a special way and worked well together.
The involvement of the Jewish Colonization Association left its mark on the colony. Wells were dug, milk cows and work horses were purchased, high quality seeds were obtained, and even loans for the construction of new homes were offered. Markuleshty was famous for the cultivation of outstanding types of corn, wheat, barley, sunflowers and tobacco. This production meant jobs for many people in the area.
The abundance of tobacco brought with it sales of tax free products – illegally, of course. This resulted in the constant searches of the residents, arrests and even trials. However, the Jewish Colonization Association was unsuccessful in encouraging vegetable gardening. This was a branch of farming the Association was especially interested in cultivating.
In the experimental model garden excellent fruit trees were planted. However, the experiment did not succeed. In addition, the trial vineyard, subsidized by the Association, also was a failure in spite of the effort and money put in.
The residents of Markuleshty were extremely proud of the large forest they were able to cultivate in an area blessed by many trees and forests.
In 1907 the Savings and Loan Fund was established. It was a useful tool in the economy of the settlement until 1940. In addition to its economic importance, the Fund also served a social purpose. Its annual general meeting became an important occasion for the entire community.
The special status of Markuleshty as an agricultural settlement changed towards the end of the 19th century. At that time the Russian authorities developed the railway system and the line passing near the town was connected to Odessa. The fact that there was a plan to build a railroad station about half a kilometer from the settlement and the new tracks caused a heated argument. The farmers were cautious and feared that the agricultural nature of the settlement would change. On the other hand, other residents saw the new tracks as a window of opportunity for more commerce and additional income. The farmers lost the argument and with the new station Markuleshty became a center for the distribution of produce from the area. Now it was possible to send grain, corn, sunflowers and other products not only to Odessa, but also to Danzig and Konigsberg in Germany. The advent of the railroad changed the colony from an agricultural center to a commercial one.
During WWI and afterwards, when the Romanians took over, there were social changes. The colony became a commercial center although there was still some agricultural activity.
During WWII and afterwards the cultivation of sunflowers and soya was extensive. Several factories were erected to produce oil. Markuleshty was famous in Romania for its oil. However, the growth of tobacco declined. This was the result of the controls set up by the Romanian authorities and caused economic difficulties for Jewish growers.
The chance to earn a living in agriculture disappeared. The youths of Markuleshty left the colony to study elsewhere, to make Aliyah or to immigrate to western countries, especially overseas. There were very few farmers remaining.
The railroad station, the marketplace, tailors' and shoemakers' shops, small commerce mainly involved in transporting produce of area farmers – all these were no longer ways of earning a living. When the area was annexed by Romania there were many refugees from Ukraine coming through the village. In the years 1918-1921 thousands of families passed through Markuleshty. There was a Ukraine committee formed to assist the refugees. It also protected them from the Romanian secret police and helped to obtain residential permits. The refugees, in return, added to the life of the colony and its culture. Some of them were businessmen, teachers and intellectuals.
All mutual concerns of the residents were discussed in special meetings in the synagogue or in the marketplace in summertime. All services to the community, activities of the rabbi and the ritual slaughterer, work in the abattoir, Heder for the children of the poor, work of the Hevra Kaddisha, the upkeep of the bath house, the mikve, the cemetery, baking of matzos, Talmud Torah and Heders were all subsidized by a special tax. The funds were distributed either privately or publicly. There were also charitable institutions such as Maot Chitin, Help for the Poor and Gmilut Hasadim.
Only at the beginning of the 19th century was there a doctor in the settlement. Until then there had been only a medic-barber.
Education and Culture
Educational institutions existed mainly due to the constant assistance of the representatives of the Jewish Colonization Association, the influence of the scholar I. L. Fishman (Rabbi I.L. Hacohen Maimon), and the teacher and author Hillelis. They contributed a great deal to the raising of the educational and cultural standards of the community.
An elementary school was founded along the lines of other schools of the Jewish Colonization Association and the author and teacher Hillelis was appointed its principal. He was there until 1918. The school, which had educated generations of intellectuals, became a cultural center. Fruit trees were planted on 22 Dunams around the building. The students looked after the orchard.
After the annexation by Romania the school became a high school (8 classes) organized by Tarbut. There was also an elementary school of 4 classes established as a preparatory program for the high school.
Hebrew was the language of instruction in the elementary school and the lower grades of the high school. In addition to secular subjects there were also classes in Hebrew literature, Bible and Jewish History. Two of the teachers on staff had come from Eretz Israel.
At the same time as the establishment of the school there was also the emergence of a group of Repaired Jews. They invited intellectuals from Ukraine to teach Hebrew in Hebrew. The materials used were Hebrew newspapers mailed to the village. Many homes acquired new Hebrew books. In addition to Hebrew language, Bible and Talmud were also taught in the modern Talmud Torah. The ultra religious taught religious subjects such as Mishna, Tehilim, Talmud, etc.
Authorities and Relations with Neighbors
The government was represented in the village by three agents. These were the staroste – the head of the village, a policeman under the jurisdiction of the Police chief Floreshti and a rural beadle who was in charge of court summons, seizures, etc.
Markuleshty was surrounded by many villages and had stable relations with the Moldovan citizens. These were mostly based on commerce. The businessmen in the colony gave loans to the farmers using grain harvest as collateral and the farmers, in turn, employed many young Jewish men and women in ploughing, weeding, harvesting and threshing.
There was always some tension due to the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Russia in general and in the area in particular. It was really evident in 1903 and in 1905 when there pogroms in Kishinev and in other parts of Russia. In 1905 the colony residents were fearful for nothing. A telegram was received in which there was an announcement that a group of hooligans was coming to riot. Everyone was excited. Many women and children hid in the fields while the men organized themselves for self-defence. Soon it was discovered that the telegram carried false news.
In 1917 the Ukrainian troops in the outpost organized several attacks on the settlement where there were robberies and destruction. They actually announced a night of rioting under the protection of the army. The local farmers broke into stores in the center of the village and vandalized them. The men of the colony stopped the rioters on the next day with a group of armed Jewish youths who were part of the self-defence unit.
When the Romanians came in 1918 Markuleshty was one of the colonies that suffered very little. In contrast to other settlements, there were no attempts to oppose the new regime. Still, at the beginning there was a heavy military rule. The conquering army appointed a local commander who confiscated food and other products. Residents needed a special permit to leave the area.
There was an anti-Semitic atmosphere within the police and other government officials. In order to control the extent of influence of the Jews the village was forcibly attached to a different administration. This was totally illogical.
After local elections the winning party organized anti-Semitic propaganda in the small villages. Those who had voting rights in the settlement were added to distant rural areas so that the Jews would not influence the vote. The secret ballot always presented a win for the ruling party and because the Jewish vote was not included, the representative elected was an anti-Semite.
In 1936 Koza's representatives arrived in Markuleshty and were joined by peasants from nearby villages. After shrewdly arranging election results, open propaganda now existed. The Jewish youths opposed the newcomers and caused their failure. The peasants and rioters fled to the other side of the Reut River. This incident was even reported to the courts.
Another event occurred in the second half of the 1930s when there was a need to prove citizenship. One day a local judge decided to eliminate many local residents of Markuleshty from the citizenship list even though their parents and grandparents had been born there. After much effort this decision was annulled – after a payment of a bribe.
After the war broke out many Jewish refugees from Balti, Falesht and other places arrived. They had escaped because they were being bombed. The local Jews received them with open arms. Some of the Jewish youths were drafted into the Soviet army and left the village.
The Jews were at a loss. They did not know what to do – should they leave or stay? However, the old border with the Soviet Union – the Dniester – remained closed and soldiers guarding it did not allow the population to leave and to escape to Ukraine.
The border was finally opened on July 5. Most of the refugees and some of the local Jews left that night. The trains no longer arrived and hundreds of Jews who had waited at the station for several days had to return home. Some families who had horses and buggies were able to escape towards the border.
On July 9 hundreds of Romanian peasants from the surrounding areas began to steal Jewish property and to transport it on carts to their homes. Robbery and vandalism were not enough for these peasants and they also killed dozens of Jews and raped women and young girls. The number of rioters grew daily and the Jews escaped from their homes and assembled on one of the streets. Many Jews ran into the fields where they were murdered by the peasants. Very few of the escapees were able to reach the Dniester.
When the Romanian army came to the settlement 18 Jewish leaders were arrested to be used as hostages. They were subsequently shot to death. All the Jews of Markuleshty were assembled in the center of the village – men, women and children. A Romanian officer took all the jewelry, gold and money in their possession. The men were ordered to deepen the anti-tank trenches which had previously been dug by the Soviets. They were all told to stand in groups of ten near the trenches. They were then stripped of their clothing. The men were shot first, followed by the women and children. The number of victims is unknown. It is estimated that 600 people were slaughtered. Not one remained alive.
Archives – O-11/11-3-1: PKR/II
The Cooperation of the Jews in Romania, Kishinev, 1934 (Yiddish);
Sharagd, Moshe: Thirty Years of Jewish Cooperation (1901-1933), Kishinev, 1934;
Ososkin, Moshe: The Organization of Social Aid among the Jews of Bessarabia, History of Bessarabia… 1952. Tel Aviv
Markuleshty: a Jewish Colony in Bessarabia, edited by Leib Coopershtein and Meir Kotik. Published by the Organization of Former Residents of Markuleshty in Israel, Tel Avi, 1977;
Markuleshty Colony competes with Basel, History of Bessarabia…1977, Tel Aviv
La situation des Israelites en Russie, Paris, 1906, vol. 1, pp.99-108,
Mircu, Marius: Progromurile din Basarabia, Bucharest, 1947, pp.26-30
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